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Authors: Ben Bova,Les Johnson

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Baen Books

by Ben Bova

Mars, Inc.: The Billionaires’ Club

Laugh Lines

The Watchmen

The Exiles Trilogy

Rescue Mode

Baen Books

by Les Johnson

with Travis S. Taylor:

Back to the Moon

Edited by Les Johnson and Jack McDevitt

Going Interstellar


This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Ben Bova & Les Johnson

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Book

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

ISBN: 978-1-4516-3934-6

Cover art by Bob Eggleton

First Baen printing, June 2014

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: TK

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


To the first human being

to set foot on the planet Mars.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson



Les Johnson

In 2012, NASA convened a workshop in Houston to “assess near-term mission concepts and longer-term foundations of program-level architectures for future robotic exploration of Mars.” The event, NASA’s Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration, was held at the Lunar and Planetary Institute and attended by several hundred scientists and engineers. Attendance was selective. Participants had to submit white papers describing some innovative or novel approach to Mars exploration that would either provide new science, save money or both. I submitted a white paper describing how solar sails could be used in support of a robotic Mars sample return mission and it was accepted for presentation at the workshop. I was thrilled. (My presentation is archived online at

During one of the plenary sessions in which all the participants were engaged, the age-old debate between advocates of future human exploration of Mars and those who believe that robots can explore more cheaply began to rage. And this was a venue in which it truly mattered. Being discussed as options for future robotic Mars missions were instruments that would help answer questions pertaining to future human missions—not fundamental science. If another human exploration-centric payload would be included on a future mission, then that would be one less science instruments on the flight. Payload space was at stake, and the funding that would be required to develop it.

Sitting on the front row, in a chair reserved for him and marked simply, “Buzz,” was the second man to walk on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin. He had been quiet up to this point, but it was clear he could contain himself no longer. He stood up and waited on the room to notice and get quiet. It didn’t take long. Once he had everyone’s attention, he asked a question.

“How many of you would sign up for a one-way trip to Mars?”

In an audience comprised of mostly scientists and engineers, more than half raised their hands. I noticed that some who raised their hands were previously arguing for sending only robotic science missions to Mars—and not humans. That was certainly unexpected. I kept my hands at my side.

I was astounded at the response. Would these highly educated scientists really give up the blue skies and green grass of Earth to live forevermore in what amounts to a Winnebago on the fourth planet from the Sun? A good day on Mars is colder and more inhospitable than a bad day in Antarctica. Instant death would surely follow the first careless mistake and there would be no easy way to get help in an emergency. What were they thinking???

Apparently they were thinking of why they had studied science, space science and engineering specifically, in the first place. The dream of walking on Mars is powerful; perhaps more powerful than the logic used to justify one type of space exploration over another. And only the words of a person who walked on another world could jolt this group out of their parochial mindset and remind them of the wonder that is space exploration.

I later found out that most that didn’t raise their hands were like me. They would love to go to Mars but not on a one-way trip. I would go on a round trip to Mars and back in a heartbeat. I would take a calculated risk in order to experience Mars firsthand but I would definitely want to return to my family and friends, to my yearly trip to the North Carolina mountains and to the simple walks around the neighborhood that I take with my wife each day. Fortunately, no one is saying that a trip to Mars has to be one way. But even it is, there many people who would volunteer. Consider Mars One and Inspiration Mars.

Mars One has the self-stated goal to “establish a permanent human settlement on Mars,” sending a habitat to the planet with people coming two years later, planning to remain permanently. Supplies would be sent from Earth to keep them supplied and alive until the colony becomes self-sufficient. They claim to be in discussions with several major aerospace companies and groups, including Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and Thales Alenia Space.

Their plan is ambitious, audacious, and incredibly risky. The technical issues aside, what’s interesting about Mars One has been the public’s response. They claim that over 200,000 people have applied to take this one-way journey. These people have said they would risk their lives to be the first colonists on Mars. How many of them are serious and would get on the rocket if the plan becomes a reality? No one knows. But I would bet the number won’t be zero. It might even be larger than the 200,000 they have today. If they actually can pull together the funding and support to make it happen, then more people will hear about it and possibly sign up. If and when launch day arrives, you can bet there will be people lining up at the door.

Less ambitious but no less audacious is Inspiration Mars. Led by millionaire Dennis Tito, who spent eight days in space aboard the International Space Station, paying the Russians for the trip and becoming the first real space tourist, Inspiration Mars would like to use today’s technologies to send a man and a woman on a round-trip flight around Mars and back. The trip would last 500 days and pass within 100 miles of the planet’s surface. What a vacation that would be!

Is such a trip technically possible?

Can he pull it off?
Why not? All it will take is money to buy good engineering — and more than a little bit of luck.

Would it change how we view deep space exploration and perhaps foster more ambitious future trips to the Martian surface?
I certainly hope so and wish Mr. Tito all the success in the world!

We have the technology
to get people to Mars and to bring them safely back to Earth.

Mars awaits, and many of us are getting impatient.

—Les Johnson

[email protected]




April 5, 2031

Earth Departure Minus Four Years

14:40 Universal Time

The Rock

The rock was tiny, barely a foot in diameter, with a mass of less than thirty pounds. It had been orbiting the Sun for nearly fifteen million years in an elliptical path that took it roughly from the distance of Mars to a little closer to the Sun than the heat-blistered planet Mercury.

It had been blasted off the surface of Mars by the impact of a much bigger meteoroid, the one that sent the famous Allen Hills Meteorite wandering through space until it crashed into the ice sheets of Earth’s Antarctica some 15,000 years ago.

If the rock had reached Earth it would have never made it to the ground, but would have streaked across the night sky to burn up high in the atmosphere—a “falling star” to anyone who happened to notice its demise.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, the rock continued on its long, looping trajectory, swinging through the vast, dark, silent emptiness.

Interplanetary space is not completely empty, of course. There were thousands of other meteoroids created by that single Mars impact so long ago. And millions more engendered by other impacts with different planets and the smaller bodies of the main Asteroid Belt, out beyond the orbit of Mars. They all quietly orbited the Sun, but they were very far apart, most of them too small to be seen even by the finest scientific instruments of humankind.

Looping around the Sun for millennia at an average velocity of 40,000 miles per hour, this rock was in a fairly stable orbit that would not bring it near Earth or any other planet for another ten million years. The chances of it hitting anything smaller than a planet were, well, astronomically small.

But astronomically small is not the same as zero. And humans were already planning to send explorers across the gulf of space to the planet Mars.

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